Monday, May 24, 2010

The Devil in the White City, Part III

Besides the fascinating story of the development of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the corollary story of serial killer H.H. Holmes, aka Herman Mudgett, what impressed me the most about this book is the detail Eric Larson includes. His research extends beyond what most readers expect. An example of this is when he explains that the Exposition’s hospital treated 11,602 patients. He follows that declaration with the number of people treated for specific conditions, such as diarrhea, constipation, etc. He names a total of eight conditions. All dental problems are grouped together in one category separate from those mentioned above.

Another example of being specific is the details of the August 16, 1893, Midway Ball. He tells about the various people who attended and what they wore, about the dances and who led them. He lists the entire menu. Larson ties the story together at the end by explaining how the Exposition concludes and how Holmes meets his demise.

The unity of the story is complete when Larson finishes as he started—April 14, 1912—the sailing across the Atlantic of the Titanic coming to America and the Olympic going to England. Most of the architects and directors involved with the Exposition had passed on by then; however, Daniel Burnham was a passenger on the Olympic and Frank Millet, a painter from New York who was responsible for the “White City” and “Whitewash Gang” terms being applied to the Exposition’s buildings, was a passenger on the Titanic.

The reader can skip parts that include too many details yet get the core of the story. Those interested in writing nonfiction can learn how to mesh story and detail by reading this book.

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